Meet Stacey Kussell. She is a dancer and a documentary film maker from the United States. On her travels she found the unusual dance troupe Vertigo from Jerusalem – a troupe now rehearsing in a renovated chicken coop in the Ellah Valley. Vertigo is an Israeli dance troupe with an ecological mission –– one that Stacey has put to film, with the help of the crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo. It is her way to access Israel and to tell the story about this small, yet extremely dynamic country of individuals.
As the editor of an environment news site, I am often contacted by young Jews from America looking to make a change in Israel. They tell me they are interested in cleantech, or the environment and they want to help in some way. Most follow the usual steps and script that they already know: they’ve come to Israel on Birthright and want to return –– this time on a mission.
They join a professional intern group, or contact me directly about interning, and I’ve worked with about ten young Americans in this capacity. Only one of the ten was really worthwhile taking on. The rest couldn’t really seem to find their way or sense of commitment.
Want to keep them in Israel longer? There needs to be a new model to help young Jews assimilate into the Israeli culture, and make that change that they so want to make in the Middle East.
While an internship might help a young adult find their way in the complicated, competitive, nepotistic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work environment in Israel, most do not make it out alive. They end up getting broken down by the system and working for a salary that is half of what they’d get back home, with skills under-appreciated and unused.
Because Israel is a land with so many things undone, there are amazing ways new blood from America and elsewhere can imbibe the culture in a thrilling way. But there needs to be a new way of exploring change. One way is through film activism.
A friend of mine from Canada who immigrated to Israel with her parents when she was a youngster organized Israel’s first lesbian film festival. She said that Israel was a pretty blank slate when it comes to stuff like that; she was forging new territory, but it was really worthwhile to be this pioneer.
So lesbians in Israel got a chance to see films from other cultures and theirs to connect more wholly to who they are, or aren’t. I attended the film festival and enjoyed the art on the walls, some of the movies about girlfriends who are your girlfriends.
Israeli film schools offer wonderful training to young Israeli filmmakers, and their documentaries win top prizes around the world at film school competitions. My concern is that the films that actually get made into large-scale features tend to sell-out Israel: films like Waltz With Bashir or Ajami.
Why does every Israeli film that make it to the big league need to be about conflict and war and Jewish guilt at the turn of every scene? It’s boring, predictable and exhausting: And more: this isn’t the real daily life we see and feel in Israel. At least not me, and I live in a neighbourhood adjacent to Ajami in Jaffa.
That film tried hard to squeeze in every Israeli Jewish/Arab stereotype imaginable. It won a seat at awards ceremonies to play lip service to the Israel-bashers who want the world to believe that Israel really is apocalypse now. And the Jews, of course living in Israel, are to blame.
Bla, bla, bla. The same old script, right?
Consider that the New York Film Academy has a wonderful program that trains young Nigerians and African filmmakers through an intensive one month series of masterclasses in Nigeria. This African country is overrun by insurgents, militia, and Islamic activists with atrocities being carried out left, right and center.
Thanks to the professional film school which teaches a hands-on approach, young Nigerians are helping present their voice in an international cinematic style. They are now sitting in the director’s seat showing the world about their reality.
There are efforts to bring over American professionals from Hollywood to teach masterclasses to Israelis in their native environment for a few days or a week; I know that happens at Tel Aviv University, but what about masterclasses for film for new emigres to Israel to help them show Israel in a way that isn’t exploitive or meeting or feeding a political agenda?
What about film training programs to young Israeli Arabs, or Druize, or the Lebanese refugees who came to Israel as “friends” of Israel once upon a time?
What about the uncommon stories of the people who simply love, and live like people do in Paris, New York, Bangkok or any other city? Show me some good international films about Israel that don’t mention the world Jewish, Arab, Muslim police or the army and I’ll start watching Israel films again.
Time to change stereotypes and world views.
Can it be done through film?
With so many of our youth turning to film as media, it’s time for more efforts like Stacey’s film with Vertigo to meet the big screen: a film about an Israeli dance school that rehearses in dirt in a chicken coop [link http://www.greenprophet.com/2012/10/israel-dance-australia/], and teaches ecology? So unusual and interesting. I’d watch that when it comes out.